Editor’s Note: Raul A. Reyes is an attorney and member of the USA Today board of contributors. Follow him on Twitter @RaulAReyes. The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of the author.
Raul Reyes: Donald Trump's immigration plan isn't workable and would damage the economy
Plan to deport undocumented immigrants, end birthright citizenship is callous, divisive, he says
They have got to go. That about sums up the immigration ideas laid out by Donald Trump on Sunday’s “Meet the Press,” and in an accompanying 1,900-word policy paper. After making opposition to illegal immigration a cornerstone of his circus-like presidential campaign, The Donald has finally ventured into specifics with an immigration policy plan centered on increased border security and immigration enforcement.
While it is a good sign that Trump has ventured into actual policy proposals, his ideas are impractical at best and at worst inhumane. His ideas veer far to the right of the American mainstream. Far from stabilizing our economy, his plans could well stunt our economic growth.
Consider: Trump wants to build a wall all across our southern border with Mexico. To those for whom fighting illegal immigration is a top priority, this might sound like a smart, common-sense plan. But this line of thinking ignores reality. The border is more secure than it has been in years; an analysis this year by The Washington Post found that illegal crossings along the Mexican border were at their lowest level in two decades.
Meanwhile, our country’s population of undocumented immigrants has dropped by about 1 million over the last several years, according to the Pew Research Center. We don’t need that wall; what we do need is smarter immigration enforcement.
Trump says that his administration would force the Mexican government to pay for this wall. With all due respect, such an idea is laughable. A spokesman for Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto, when told of Trump’s plan to have Mexico foot the bill for a wall between our two countries, told Bloomberg News, “It reflects an enormous ignorance for what Mexico represents, and also the irresponsibility of the candidate who’s saying it.” He’s right on both counts.
To force Mexico to pay for this wall, Trump says he would impose import tariffs for its construction. Imagine how disruptive it would be if “President Trump” were to enter into an all-out economic battle with one of our top three trade partners, whose imports to the U.S. in 2014 totalled $294 billion.
The most troubling part of Trump’s immigration plan is that he has, in effect, endorsed mass deportations of the undocumented. “We’re going to keep the families together, but they have to go,” he said on “Meet the Press.” Think about what this would mean: Our undocumented population is estimated at about 11 million, roughly equivalent to the population of Ohio.
Think of the tremendous economic upheaval, human suffering and community destabilization that would occur if our government were to round up and remove 11 million people. Such an idea is staggering in its lack of compassion, especially since a reported 62% of the undocumented have lived here for at least a decade, most as productive members of their American communities.
The costs of mass deportations would be, to use a favorite Trump term, “huge.” The conservative American Action Forum has estimated that deporting all of our undocumented immigrants would cost between $400 billion and $600 billion, and would take about 20 years. Under such a scenario, real gross domestic product would fall by nearly $1.6 trillion.
For all Trump’s lip service about “keeping families together,” what about the U.S.-born children who live with undocumented parents? In 2008, the National Council of La Raza estimated that three-quarters of children with at least one undocumented parent were U.S.-born citizens. Would these kids be sent back to countries that are foreign to them, places where they might not speak the language?
Even worse, Trump has called for an end to birthright citizenship, saying it “remains the biggest magnet for illegal immigration.” There is little to no analytical evidence to support this notion. The overwhelming majority of undocumented immigrants come to this country to work and provide for their families. Besides, birthright citizenship has been established by the 14th Amendment to the Constitution and upheld by the U.S. Supreme Court as far back as the Wong Kim Ark case in 1898.
There are many other similarly flawed ideas in Trump’s immigration plan. Any first-year economics student could tell him that that his proposal to “pause” the issuing of all green cards would have a negative impact on our technology and business sectors by turning off the inflow of qualified, legal workers.
Trump wants increased border security and enforcement, although the United States currently spends more on immigration enforcement ($18 billion) than all other areas of federal law enforcement combined. Trump’s immigration policy seems centered on the myth that undocumented immigrants take jobs from Americans. In fact, researchers have found that undocumented immigrants constitute a net benefit to our economy, based on their contributions to Social Security, taxes and work in the agricultural and service sectors.
Sure, illegal immigration is important to voters. Yet most Americans remain in support of a pathway to citizenship for the undocumented, one that would entail background checks, fines and a waiting period. A recent Gallup poll found that 65% of Americans favor a path to citizenship for the undocumented, while 19% favor sending them back to their home countries. So despite all the attention he is getting on the immigration issue, Trump is way out of step with most Americans.
Trump’s immigration plan would be a disaster for our country, our economy and our values. His ideas are a lot like his new political persona: callous, divisive and lacking in substance.
Correction: An earlier version of this commentary gave an incorrect figure for the value of Mexico’s imports to the U.S.